Friday, May 1, 2015

Gin Glorious Gin - Olivia Williams

I found this book unexpectedly disappointing. Wine, beer, and spirits (the selling of) are my day job and of those 3 categories spirits, specifically gin and whisky, is the bit that's most fun to work with. When it comes to wine my customers generally (though not exclusively) look for a bargain. If it's not on offer interest in it is limited. 

When it comes to spirits that changes, and because gin has rapidly expanded as a category over the last few years it tends to be where we have the most interesting conversations, and where price is very much a secondary consideration. A really good book about gin is due.

My first problem with this one is my problem rather than the books - it focuses far to much on London for my purposes. As this is something that Williams set out to do (How Mother's Ruin Became the Spirit of London) I shouldn't complain about it. London gin is a style rather than a geographical indicator though, and I want something that examines gin culture, especially contemporary gin culture, across the country (and maybe also Europe, gin is big in Spain too, and then there's Holland where we got it from in the first place). Discussion of specific bars and bar tenders (mixologists...) who are good now, or at least where good when the book was being researched, is of limited use to me and will quickly date. 

The bigger issue however is that I felt the whole book was a bit sloppy. Silly errors (the booking office bar in the St Pancras hotel looks over St Pancras, not Kings Cross) should have been picked up. There is no index which is annoying, one would have been very helpful, I especially wanted to look up Sipsmith's distillery again). Someone is delighted to find the sweetest Seville oranges - which seems to me to be like talking about sweet lemons, and South American wines didn't become big in the UK in the 1960's. These are little things but as they started to add up they undermined my faith in some of Williams other broad statements, and eventually the whole book. 

On the plus side it's a fairly entertaining read, it makes me want to try a few of the gins I haven't got round to yet, and she paints a vivid picture of a drunken 18th century London. I know I get pedantic about details, another reader would be far more relaxed about things that annoy me, but in the end I feel a little more care would have made a much better book.


  1. I like a bit of pedantry and it would seem fitting, considering the discrepancies in this book.

    1. It was frustrating, it was so nearly a much better book!

  2. Time to write your own. I have this on my wishlist but let's just say that it dropped a way way down in priority now. Would rather spend the money on trying some new gins. ;-)

  3. I'm sure given the interest and general revival in gin that sooner or later someone will write a really good book on the subject. There was a lot of interest in this one but I would only recommend buying it if you picked up a really cheap copy somewhere. The lack of index was really annoying, as there were bits I could have used for work but finding them again was such a chore.